What is arguably the most important week in the history of Villarreal comes to a close, and a few things have become clear for me in the past few days. It was a week of extreme highs, and it brought a lot of feelings a lot of us as fans of this club have not had, ever.
The lead up to the match against Arsenal was the most nerve wracking few days in a while for a lot of us, and just as it happened to me, it was the case for many others: extremely hard to focus at work, daydreaming back and forth around possible scenarios, and back to reality, only to float away seconds later.
The match itself was a workout, both mentally and physically, and not necessarily for just the players. I felt my body tense up through the entire 90+ minutes. My brain kept trying to stay in the moment, but I would inevitably let myself think, for just a second, “What if we go through…?” and immediately after I felt guilty, alarmed and like I had jinxed our chances by believing. A few minutes later, the cycle would repeat itself.
The last five minutes of the match were, at least for me, a “barreja” (valenciano for mix) of crying, screaming at the screen, hyperventilating, and burying face in hands.
By the 94th minute, I was screaming at both the TV and the referee. “Do it! Do it! DO IT!.” Slavkjo Vincic took pity in all of us and called the match, and my face immediately hit the floor (I was already on my knees). I started both ugly-crying, and laughing. I have not felt this happy in a long time. I remember crying like that two times in my life before. One of them had to do with the birth of my daughter.
It was a pretty big deal.
It was the culmination of so many decades of work, tears, a feeling of inferiority and that we’d never make it, and overall, and as Javi Mata in local radio put it, “Not invited into an exclusive club.”
Well, here we are. We’re in the VIP section, actually. Villarreal is in the Europa League final.
One of the things I have noticed in the past few days is that, other than the token half-effort article to congratulate the club and its management, very little has been said about Villarreal being in this final, especially internationally.
It all brings me back to reality–unless we are talking to one of those Superleague teams, very few truly care about what we have done. We are just another ship passing in the night, enjoying their 15 minutes of fame, before it all goes back to:
- What’s happening with Hazard this summer?
- Is Pogba PogBack or PoGone?
- Is Messi staying?
- Is Griezmann wearing braids or a ponytail in today’s match?
I don’t agree with people like Florentino Perez, who say that the young soccer fans don’t even watch full matches and instead get their fill from other sources only, like videogames and Twitch. I do believe that less and less people care about teams outside the Top 10 worldwide clubs list, and the Top 20 marquee players that dominate the news cycle.
That’s okay, though. I personally feel good about two things: the first one, that I don’t need the viewership, or need more viewership/attention, to enjoy my club and its own journey (yes, we will not be able to afford expensive players, but less interest will not shut down the league). With that in mind, this blog has the sole purpose of informing those of you who love/enjoy this club, not of creating new fans. I’m not that great of a writer.
The second one is that I am extremely cozy, invested, and enamored for this club. I created this corner for Villarreal and Vila-real, and the love I feel for this small team of the East Coast of Spain. I don’t need anything else but a club that represents my hometown, and a club owner that gives a crap. Someone who will not burn the ground where 98 years of history have grown. The protests today from poor Valencia fans trying to take back their own club remind me of how good we have it, and we have had it, with Fernando Roig all this time.
If you missed these superficial news bits about our club and the achievement, I can summarize them for you below:
- Villarreal is in the Europa League final. It’s the only non-English club in any final this year.
- Pau Torres is from Vila-real, and Villarreal is in Vila-real as well. They’re both from Vila-real.
- Emery exacted his revenge on Arsenal. Enter #goodebening jokes.
- Vila-real is a small small town. About 50,000 live here. It’s very small. Did we mention how small it is?
- Enter Submarine puns, ad nauseum (this is something I have been living with for decades. Villarreal win? “Villarreal launches the torpedoes.” Villarreal loses? “Villarreal is sunk and treads water.”
Don’t get me wrong, this is all great for the sake of the club’s marketing department, but when you have heard the same five articles recycled for 30+ years every time we do something cool, it gets old.
But, back to the week. Token articles about Villarreal making the final came and went. We here can just focus on what’s next.
Emery was looking a bit more optimistic than I expected about both Samu and Foyth this morning, and even though he was still cryptic about whether the Nigerian and Argentinean will make the final, I did not hear a decisive “No.” That makes me feel hopeful.
There is a final that is played with and without those two players–especially Juan Foyth. I will feel so much better if the Tottenham loanee is healthy and puts on a starting eleven shirt on the 26th. He deserves it, too.
Between now and that final in the seemly beautiful city of Gdansk, Poland, there are four La Liga matches in which we need to simply get enough points to finish sixth, and that’s it. Our calendar is pretty mercurial, with matches at home to Celta de Vigo this Sunday, with the Gallegos not playing for anything and with Aspas potentially not even starting, and Sevilla, with an amazing squad but a team who by May 16th, will be playing for very little probably.
There are two heavy-weight matches, too: Valladolid away, with the team from Pucela fighting to survive, and Real Madrid in the very last week of the season–also away.
The only team who has a realistic option to beat us for that sixth place is Betis, who has a vastly better calendar: Granada home (too far away from Europe), Eibar away (virtually relegated), Huesca at home (likely relegated by then), and Celta de Vigo away (playing for nothing).
This points at the fact that we will have to do well against Valladolid, and this Sunday against Celta de Vigo, and see what happens against Sevilla and Real Madrid. Six points may not be enough to keep sixth place though, and if we don’t win the Europa League final, we could end up without European football next year if those two scenarios play out. Unless UEFA bans Real Madrid and Barcelona from the Champions League after all (won’t happen).
There is a dream scenario for a Villarreal fan in that last week of May:
- May 23rd: 72 hours before the final. A Villarreal-subs team plays against Real Madrid, in Madrid, without any pressure whatsoever, and they manage to take the title away from Los Blancos. I don’t have anything against Zidane, but it would definitely make headlines, and it would put Manchester United on their heels before the first minute is even playued: Villarreal’s subs just measured up to Real Madrid and took the league away from them.
- May 26th: Villarreal win the Europa League final.
I’m not a greedy person. We have had an amazing week, and all I ask now is that we do what we can in La Liga, get six points out of Celta and Valladolid, do our best against Sevilla and Real Madrid, and channel the energy of thousands of Villarreal fans who have been waiting 98 year for this and face Manchester United.
If that happens, and the COVID protocols keep things in check (A Celta de Vigo player just tested positive, the last thing we need is a key player quarantined as protocols relax towards the end of the season), I will be happy.
This week was fun, stressful, cathartic, scary, and full of pride for the club I love.
This month could be one of the best months in the lives of a few of us.